Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.03: Four Walls and a Roof

First, firstfirstfirstfirst... we need to address the single most important thing that happened on this week’s Walking Dead: MICHONNE’S KATANA HAS RETURNED!! Whew, that was a close one. I shall now be able to call off my Kickstarter campaign to get it back.

Nikki: So here’s what happens when you write up your thoughts on a show and think you can do it without your notes: You leave a TON of stuff out. I realized after last week’s post that I’d entirely forgotten to mention something I spent probably too long doing: looking up the bible verses that were hanging on the wall near the altar. This week, they rang even truer than they did last, so let’s take a look at them now:

Romans 6:4: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Ezekiel 37: 7 (how badly do I wish that was Ezekiel 25:17?! says the Tarantino fan): So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

Matthew 27:52: and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Revelations 9:6: During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

Luke 24:5: In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

I think these are all self-explanatory, and I would guess that Father Stokes actually mounted them after the apocalypse happened, not before. One can assume he’s been reading those bibles until they were falling apart.

In this episode, many of our predictions came true from last week: Yep, Bob was bit. (And watching the Terminites trying to spit up their meat was gloriously funny.) I have often ranked the success of screen gore based on whether or not I could eat popcorn through it. For the most part, I seem to be able to do it with The Walking Dead. I’m less successful during Hannibal. So I’m thinking it must be a cannibal thing, because this week I had to put down my popcorn completely in that opening scene. Seriously, did they have to show the veins hanging out of the meat? :::Gyuuuuuuhhhhh:::

Also, Father Stokes had shut out his congregation, as we predicted. Perhaps there’s something more to the revelation still waiting, but despite it being predictable and obvious, I think Seth Gilliam’s performance when he has to tell them what he did was astounding. He’s humble, honest, apologetic, horrified, and you can tell he lives with the nightmare of what he’s done ever since. When he looks at the group moving towards him in anger, he cowers before Rick, and says rather matter-of-factly that he led them back to the church because he assumed they’d been sent by God to punish him. He believes he deserves any punishment coming to him. But even so, later in the episode, when he’s cowering in his office as everyone else is silent (except for Judith), I couldn’t help but think he might suddenly speak up and say, “They’re in here! Spare me, spare me!” Thank goodness he didn’t.

There’s a lot to say about this episode, but I’ll turn it over to you for your thoughts on it, Josh. But not before saying I’m SO hoping that among the deleted scenes for this episode is Rick and the gang leaving for the school, with Rick turning around as he leaves saying, “Stay in God’s House, Coral!!”

Josh: There was another telling quote featured in tonight's episode, but it wasn't a Bible verse. They were the words of Pope John Paul II, highlighted on a plaque in Father Gabriel's office: “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn't misuse it.” I wasn't familiar with the phrase before now, but I believe it's an apt observation. There are times in our lives when poor decisions can teach us more than all the success in the world, but if we fail to take those lessons to heart, our negligence can cost us dearly.

Gareth allowed his self-righteousness to give him false confidence. He believed that Rick's initial escape from him must have been some kind of fluke, based solely on the notion that he thought he had it all figured out, believed his sick philosophy was irrefutable. Even at the last, he was still trying to convince Rick that he didn't really want to kill them, looking for escape even in the circumstances of their ambush.

But this is not the same Rick who might once have been swayed by such words. He's taken all the lessons to heart, and they've darkened and hardened it, and he is a man made new. Back during the premiere, when he told the rest of the group that, “they don't get to live,” he wasn't being vengeful – he was being sensible, at least in his own estimation. He wanted certainty, and the only way to get that was to finish the job, all the way to the bitter end.

The way that the ambush and subsequent executions were staged and shot would seem to indicate that there were those in the group who still had a problem with how it all went down. Out of the nonparticipants, however (being Glenn, Maggie, Tyreese and Tara), only Tyreese looks as though he truly takes umbrage with the brand of frontier justice that Rick has adopted. Glenn simply doesn't appear to have the stomach for it, and Tara may have seen more of the Governor in Rick's actions than she would have liked, but I think they both understand, like it or not. Maggie continues to grow more pragmatic as time goes on, and after everything she's been through, no one could blame her for it. The shots we saw of her looking at a Bible and then returning it to the shelf unopened were a perfect overture to her exchange with Father Gabriel from which the episode took its title. God may have been here once, but He's gone now. We're forsaken.

The place Tyreese is coming from, however, is all about the morality of it. What he went through after Karen's death, culminating in his forgiveness of Carol after her confession, has served to convince him that the virtues of the past should still hold true, regardless of the way the world's changed. It's why he didn't kill the kid that put his hands around Judith's neck, and it's why he worked so hard to talk Sasha out of participating in the assault this week. He still believes in grace, and I think he may be the only one. I wonder what that will mean for him, and them all, down the road.

Nikki: So well put. What The Walking Dead has always done best is be an examination of humanity — what is it? Who gets to determine what is humane and what isn’t? And when the very notion of “human being” changes, does the definition of “humanity” change also? The problem is, no one can agree on those definitions within our society, much less in an apocalyptic one. Is euthanasia humane? Some would say absolutely, others a defiant NO. Is the death penalty humane? On the one hand, you’re ridding society of someone who could cause it more damage; on the other, you’re falling back on an ‘eye for an eye’ credo. What about abortion? Is the Republican Party humane? Are Democrats? Is it humane to live in a society where the 1% has the same amount of money as the other 99? On the flip side, is it humane to create nighttime fake news shows that do nothing but poke fun at people?

What is “humane”? (Before I conjure up internet hysteria, all of the questions above are merely rhetorical, designed to make a point and not suggest I have beliefs on one side or the other; those who know me already know my answers to most of those questions.)

At its core, we all have some sort of definition of it. Whether it’s doing something for the greater good, or helping the less fortunate, or living life in a way that would never hurt another person, we all strive for some sort of humanity. Even the worst dictators in history actually thought they were doing something for the greater good, no matter how fundamentally fucked up their ideas and actions look to the rest of us.

So what happens in a universe where your brother is the guy you grew up with, played with, laughed and cried with, loved, and then one day turns into a mindless walker who will kill you? Is it humane to stab them in the head and put them out of their misery? Is it humane to put him in a barn to try to wait it out until a possible cure comes along? If one escapes from a dangerous group of cannibals who obviously lost their way, is it humane to leave them behind, knowing they’ll attack and eat others? Or do you go in and slaughter them, thereby saving future groups of people from being found by them?

And what do you do when those cannibals leave their compound after you showed them “mercy,” hunt you down, and show up armed and ready to massacre the whole lot of you, as long as they don’t get too many bullets in you (wouldn’t want to destroy the “meat”). And then you turn the tables with a surprise attack, and they fall to their knees and beg for mercy? Do you try to help them? Do you assume they’re beyond help and destroy the whole lot of them? They surrendered, so you could imprison them, but what good would that do to anyone? You can’t rehabilitate them; they probably don’t want to be rehabilitated. Rick and Co. don’t have the resources or the ability to do anything like that. And besides, they have to keep on moving. Do you put Eugene ahead of everything and just dismiss anything that gets in the way of that mission?

I thought that scene was so beautifully done, for all the reasons you describe, Josh. For the looks on everyone’s faces, the anguish as they all try to come to terms with the new reality. Rick gunned them down. They were a threat, they hadn’t just killed one of theirs, they’d eaten part of him. They were threatening the whole group of them moments before. They dealt in fear, and, let’s be honest, weren’t smart enough to actually check over a person’s body before eating it. That alone deserved a bullet in the brain.

What seems humane to us doesn’t necessarily work in this new world. Someone asked a couple of weeks ago in the comments, if they begin to do things for pragmatic reasons, do they lose all humanity? My response would be no. There has to be a new definition of humanity. And I think it’ll take time, and some people — good people, I have to stress — will take a longer time than others to come around. As you say, Tyreese has taken longer than others to come to terms with what is needed. As you say, he couldn’t kill Lizzie, and Carol had to do it. More tellingly this week we find out he didn’t kill Martin, as you predicted, Josh. When Gareth comes into the church he starts calling out names, and he includes Tyreese, Judith, and Carol, even though the former weren’t at Terminus at all; they were back in the little cabin. Then we see Martin (we might have seen him last week but I didn’t recognize him until he was inside the church) and it’s clear: Tyreese probably knocked him out cold (hence the shiner) and left him behind, telling everyone he’d killed him. Instead he led Martin back to Terminus, he probably gave them information on the entire gang and some extra names Gareth was missing, and it hurt all of them.

Carol’s actions at the prison hurt Tyreese, but probably saved everyone else. Tyreese’s actions saved Martin but put everyone else in harm’s way. It’s time for new definitions.

At the end of this episode, the gang is split up AGAIN (ugh) and then Daryl emerges from the trees and calls to someone over his shoulder, whom we don’t see (cue screams of frustration echoing over the east coast at 10pm on Sunday night). But the preview to next week’s episode suggests we’re going to go back in time to see what happened to Beth, and so they couldn’t reveal if she is or isn’t with Daryl. I can’t WAIT for next week.

Any last thoughts on this week’s episode, Josh? What did you think of Abraham wanting to leave the church in the middle of the night?

Josh: Abraham feels – quite literally – like the fate of the world is resting on his shoulders. He believes in Eugene, in a very Morpheus-&-Neo sort of way, believes the knowledge he possesses could be the difference between living like this forever and making real progress toward something better. He also knows that without help, Eugene would be doomed long before he got anywhere close to Washington. We don't know much about Abraham's background yet, but whatever happened to him before he found Eugene seems to have filled him with an unwavering drive to make a difference, and he sees Eugene as the ultimate opportunity.

Abraham and Rick don't know each other very well, but you can tell they already share a mutual respect. When he penned that note on the D.C. Route map apologizing for being an asshole and stating 'THE NEW WORLD'S GONNA NEED RICK GRIMES,' that isn't posturing; he means it. But Rick's top priority is keeping his family together and keeping them safe. Abraham has much bigger plans, and while he might like to include these capable soldiers in his unit, he isn't afraid to strike out on his own if he feels that they're holding him back. His urgency seems undue because, really, the world has ended, and one would think they have nothing but time. But in Abraham's mind, every moment that passes, and every conflict they face, is another chance for something to go wrong, another opportunity for he or Eugene to wind up dead, and then all hope is lost.

Hope is a huge component of Abraham's motivation, all wrapped up in there with pain and guilt and anger and fear and desperation and whatever else you can imagine, and it's driving him, fueling his progress like an engine. That's a powerful thing indeed. Glenn and Maggie are in good hands, I think, and I'm thrilled to see what happens should anything be fool enough to block their path.

It does, however, split up the group yet again. Sometimes it feels like they do this not only to mix things up with multiple concurrent story lines but also to continually grant new opportunities for warm reunions. It may be somewhat manipulative, but I'm okay with that, particularly if it means the next big one we see is between Beth and Maggie. C'mon, TWD – don't let us down.

Bits & Bobs:

• Father Gabriel's confession really was played so well, wasn't it? Sure, it's the obvious answer, but it also works. Cowardice is a grounded, relatable fault – not flashy, but unquestionably human.

• If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, hone it to a gleaming edge and lop off all the heads. Please, ma'am.

• Bear's music is phenomenal so far this season. The emotional beats are killing me, but the action stuff is as good as it's ever been, too. The moment when they're all waiting in Father Gabriel's office for the Hunters to arrive, and Carl is tapping a finger on the butt of his holstered gun, and the music is echoing that same tap-tap-tap? So good.

• I'm pretty sure Bob Stookey got the best send-off of any character in the history of the show. While I'll miss Lawrence Gilliard week to week, he sure was amazing here; everything about his performance elevated this episode.

• “I knew if I told you, it'd become all about the end. And I really liked the middle.” Kind of broke me.

• But that cliffhanger? Uncool, man. No fair.

Next week, Daryl's got some splainin' to do.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.02: Strangers

Nikki: After last week’s barnburner of a season opener, this week slowed things down a tad as the group tries to figure out their new dynamic together, after having been apart for so long. Split up into groups, they had various adventures, tragedies, and traumas, all of which are difficult to talk about. Back together, there’s some reticence in the group, some confessions, and a lot of mystery hanging in the air — are they different people now? Do they still work as a unit or will they ultimately realize they’re better off apart?

This week’s episode introduces us to Ellis Carver Father Gabriel Stokes, bringing yet another alumnus of The Wire into the fold. I couldn’t help but expect Carver to slap some cuffs on D’Angelo as soon as he saw him, but I very quickly dropped that notion when Stokes became a mystery unto himself. Why are there scratch marks all over his parish, which appears to be clean and ordered on the inside? Why weren’t all the stained-glass windows shattered? Were they too high for the walkers to reach from the outside? I’m assuming this is a priest who locked out his flock, leaving them to the walkers and watching them die, and the reason he didn’t want to go to that supermarket with the walkers in the watery basement is because they were all his parishioners and former friends. But I’m hoping the revelation will be a little more complicated than just that.

What were your thoughts, Josh? Did Father Stokes lie when he was answering Rick’s three questions, or cleverly work around them?

Josh: As a former reader of the comic series on which the show is based, I often wonder how different it would feel to watch The Walking Dead if I didn't find myself constantly comparing it to the source material — not in terms of quality (as I believe the mediums too disparate to evaluate in parallel) but strictly regarding the content. The show and the origin comics are certainly distinct, but it's inarguable that storylines and plot points from the source material are frequently pulled into the show. And any time the action hews closely to an existing sequence of events from the comics, it becomes very difficult not only to view the proceedings objectively but also to discuss them in this forum without feeling somewhat disingenuous. This week's episode is a great example of that, as both the character of Father Gabriel and the transplanted Terminites/Hunters story seem fairly exact in their replication of the comic's material.

For example, the episode's final line is a word-for-word quote from the last panel of issue #39:

This kind of thing makes it practically impossible for me to answer your question about Father Gabriel, because all I can seem to picture is what the comics have told me is coming next. Perhaps I'm not trying hard enough to break away from that foreknowledge and imagine other scenarios; there is certainly plenty of room for the writers and producers to take the story in new directions rather than simply replicate what Kirkman has already done, and they've done a serviceable job of that in the past. However, at the moment all signs point to a rather direct adaptation, maybe more so than ever before.

That being the case, I am left at somewhat of a loss as to the best way to discuss it. I hate spoilers as much as anyone, and the last thing I want to do is compromise our readers' (or your) enjoyment of what's to come by saying too much. What I will say is that your one-sentence assessment of the clues' implications strikes me as a perfectly simple and reasonable explanation, albeit somewhat obvious, as you pointed out. Then again, oftentimes that kind of restraint serves to lend needed authenticity to fiction. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Now on to what I feel perfectly comfortable discussing, which is most everything else. 'Strangers' offered up a lot of conversation, but all of it came across as very natural to me, stepping nimbly from issue to issue and gradually clearing the air of conflict to re-set the stage for the season, nicely bonding this expanded group into something more like what it had come to be before the Governor's final attack on the prison splintered it into pieces again. In particular, the early exchange between Carol and Rick was perfectly pitched and beautifully written, culminating in the idea that he now needed to ask Carol's permission to join her group. I also loved the way Tara chose to level with Maggie about her role in the Governor's militia, and how easily came Maggie's forgiveness — testament to the way her father raised her, I'd say.

Much like last week, however, I think my favorite aspect of this installment was Carol and her ongoing struggle to reconcile what happened with Lizzie. In each discussion she had throughout the episode – with Tyrese, with Rick, with Daryl – she says little, but Melissa McBride's remarkable performance offered up a depth of emotion and internal strife that radiated from every small look and word and action. Her character continues to surprise and impress me, and I long to see what they have in store for her next.

Because, of course, at the end of the episode, Carol and Daryl take off together with the gas and supplies she had planned to use for her departure from the group, chasing after another car that bore the same distinctive cross in its window as the one that kidnapped Beth. I'm thinking this will be one of those times when the next episode will abandon RickCo. and the Bob-B-Q storyline entirely in favor of giving us a window into what's been going on with Maggie's long-lost little sister since last we saw her.

What do you think?

Nikki: Bob-B-Q, haha!! I am calling him that from now on. :) Carol continued to be the highlight of the show for me, as you say, and I think it’s that almost eerie calm from her I like so much. As someone pointed out in the comments last week, there’s something almost sad about it, as if after a life of being abused by the man she once loved, of watching people die, of watching her own daughter suffer at the hands of walkers, of having to watch both of her surrogate girls die (one by her own hand), something in her has just snapped and she’s become distanced. When Sophia walked out of the barn she was screaming and crying and pleading with Rick, but we haven’t seen that side of her since. She doesn’t show any emotions: she didn’t rail and argue and scream against Rick when he left her in the suburb. She didn’t flinch once as she was covering herself in zombie goo. She didn’t look scared when she walking amongst them. She didn’t jump or show any fear when Tasha Yar was suddenly in the room. She didn’t hop up and down and leap into Daryl’s arms, just quietly smiled. She gives a small smile when Rick acknowledges Carol as their new de facto leader in this one. She can’t talk to Daryl the way she once did, and her dialogue has become as reticent and terse as Daryl’s usually is.

I’m working on a book on Sherlock right now, and one aspect of the character of the great detective is his dire fear of being bored. He will do almost anything to avoid being bored, and when he is, then everyone around him needs to look out. I find with Carol there’s a similar thing happening here: she’s filled with so much pain and anguish that she cannot let out that she needs to keep herself busy just to stop the emotions from entering in. Why was she getting that car ready? When Daryl asked her, she just said, “I don’t know,” and almost looked frustrated, as if she genuinely didn’t know why she was doing this. But I think she needed to separate herself from the others and get back on the road so she could drive into more zombie packs and continue to fight, blow up, plot, scheme, do ANYTHING except just sit and relax and try to enjoy the company of others. The moment she stops acting, she starts thinking. And she will do almost anything to avoid doing that.

I think these early episodes are leading up to one hell of a moment for Carol; this could be Melissa McBride’s Emmy season (if, you know, the Emmys could actually look at anything other than the fucking obvious... this is the same awards show that overlooked Tatiana frickin’ Maslany, so I use “Emmy” as a metaphor for “one’s talents being recognized,” even though that’s no longer in the Emmy handbook... okay, rant over). I think she’s going to have a nervous breakdown of some kind, and I hope it won’t be the undoing of her. Let’s hope it’s less Jungle Hair Claire from Lost and more of a catharsis that allows her to put this pain behind her and move forward to a happier future. She deserves it more than just about anyone.

Back to the Bob-B-Q and Father Stokes, my friend Colleen (who often comments here) messaged me and asked if perhaps the guilt of Father Stokes lies in the fact that it was HE who introduced the idea of cannibalism to the group. Is it possible that the Terminites are in fact part of Stokes’s flock? Could he have been the misguided shepherd who provoked it? This could tie in with what I was saying: he could have locked them out of the parish, then watched out the window as they sat below it, eating one another and glaring at him as if to blame him for what they were forced to do. Either way, it was an utterly hideous and creepy way to end the episode. A friend of mine watched the episode late at night, and then had to go outside to walk her dog and the streetlights were out. She’s braver than I am!

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: You just had to bring up the squirrel baby, didn't you?

AAAAHHHH!!!! Still scarier than anything on Walking Dead.

It's true that things look exceedingly dire for poor Bob Stookey, but I thought they were looking pretty dire for him already. And no, I'm not just talking about he and Sasha's happiness as they played their Half Empty, Half Full game and made kissy faces at each other (though it's true that sort of thing rarely bodes well in this universe). More specifically, his peculiar behavior after Abraham's 'Save the World' speech and the banquet that followed – when he kissed Sasha and then went outside and stood staring back at the church, first smiling, then crying, and generally looking for all the world like he was about to leave for good – had me totally convinced that he'd been bitten when the zombie pulled him under the water at the food bank. And if that was the case, then what does that mean for the freaks we last saw gnawing on his shinbone? I'm holding out hope for something a lot worse than indigestion.

Bits & Bobs:

• “People are just as dangerous as the dead, don't you think?” “No. People are worse.”

• The church, by the way? Unmistakably Methodist, in spite of Father Gabriel's collar and title. I'd recognize an old southern Methodist church anywhere, and white clapboard with a tin roof and the big square steeple? Might as well be a flashing neon sign. I'd almost guarantee it.

• Rick's speech to Carl, and Carl's response. “We're strong enough that we don't have to be afraid, and we don't have to hide.” Oh, Carl. Hide anyway.

• “Rule #1 of scavenging: there's nothing left in this world that isn't hidden.”

• The waterlogged walkers looked amazing – super creepy, and very Italian style, I thought. So much slime.

• Rick and Michonne's discussion of the now-missing sword (which is bound to pop back up sometime, don't you think?): “I miss Andrea. I miss Hershel. I don't miss what was before. Don't miss that sword.” Well, I DO.

• Per Abraham, I vote that walkers should hitherto be referred to only as 'the undead pricks.'

Until next week, sleep well, you guys. Two eyes open.

Nikki: I just had to pop back in here (because yes, I love having the final word) and say that YES YES YES I agree with you on Michonne’s sword!! Someone mentioned last week (I thought it was in the comments, but I must have seen it elsewhere...) that someone needs to start a Kickstarter campaign for Michonne’s sword, and I completely agree.

And I also agree that it looked like Bobby got bit when he went under the water.

And speaking of squirrels, what if Carol snaps and fashions one of Daryl’s squirrel carcasses into a squirrel baby?! :::shudder:::

Until next week!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.01: No Sanctuary

So, kids, here’s your question of the day: what’s worse than being eaten alive by a zombie? Being eaten alive by a zombie that is on fire.

Yep, the ante has been upped, the gore is gorier, and the badassery is epic. The Walking Dead is back!

Nikki: There’s a lot to cover in this truly fantastic season opener (might be the best premiere that the show has ever had, in my opinion), but I want to start with what I thought was the best part: forget Shaft and Jules from Pulp Fiction, there’s a new bad motherf*&#er in town, and her name is CAROL. From slinging AKs over her shoulder and using fireworks to blow up a gigantic gas tank, obliterating a crowd of zombies and opening up a chasm for the zombies to walk through and take out everyone in Terminus, smearing herself with zombie guts the way Glenn did in season 1 (only without the fear) and calmly walking into the compound amidst the walkers and taking out the guards one by one, THEN managing to disarm and throw down Tasha Yar when it looked like Tasha had the upper hand... un... freakin... believable.

Suddenly Dirty Harry isn’t the baddest mofo in a poncho.

In the midst of all of the AWESOME that Carol represented in this episode, we have to pause for a moment and realize just how far she has come. In the beginning of the series she was a minor character, a battered wife who was as shy and feeble as a mouse, who wouldn’t dare speak out against anyone or anything for fear her husband would “teach her a lesson.” She was fiercely protective of her daughter, and when her daughter was turned by the walkers, it was one of the most devastating moments on the series. Rick had to step up and put a bullet through Sophia’s head, and Carol was forced to watch it happen.

She didn’t mourn long, because in the midst of all this, Carol had hardened. She learned to appreciate Daryl’s gruffness and the way he took matters into his own hands, and she began doing the same. At the time we complained that the writers were doing her a disservice, having her move on from the death of her daughter like it was nothing, but now I can see what they were doing with her: she was learning how to live in this world.

She learned how to shoot and defend herself. She took on two little girls at the prison as her surrogate children and taught them how to similarly harden their hearts against the harsh world around them. When she realized that an apparent flu going through the prison was going to turn some people into walkers, she took matters in to her own hands and killed them. Rick found out, and he drove her out to a nearby suburb and left her there as punishment. Anyone who took matters into their own hands without coming to a democratic decision was not welcome in his group.

Upon her reunion with Tyreese, Mika, Lizzie, and Judith, she not only had to confess to having killed Tyreese’s lover, but when Lizzie killed her own sister just so she’d have a new zombie friend to play with, Carol handled the situation with an eerie calm, and then had to harden her heart even further to kill Lizzie, recognizing she was a danger to all of them.

It is in the midst of all of this horror that she emerges the quiet, resilient, focused hero of this episode. The awesomeness of her entering the compound was topped only by the reunion between her and Daryl, something fans have been clamouring for for almost a year. And just when it seemed we had our perfect moment, Rick comes up and sees her with new, wizened eyes. He now knows that Carol actually was acting democratically, doing something for the good of the group, and that it’s that hardened resolve that has just saved their lives and will keep on protecting them. Everything about Carol made me unbelievably happy this week.

What were your thoughts on the episode, Josh?

Joshua: What a way to start a season.

When the last one ended the way it did – with no real confrontation at Terminus save the brief losing skirmish that landed our home team in boxcar jail and awaiting the bat and the blade – I got the impression that a lot of folks were disappointed. The episode was, I thought, terrific, anchored by Rick's vicious, worm-turning encounter with the Claimers, but the tone of his reunion with the rest of the group was understandably dampened by the dire straits in which they found themselves. Rick had his confidence, but it didn't appear that they had much else.

Of course, they couldn't see Carol from there.

Still, the true beauty of leaving before the denouement, aside from the masochistic pleasure of narratively dangling from the cliff all summer, is that we got to come back to this tremendous ass-kicking of a premiere.

The entirety of the opening section, leading right up to the unseen explosion from outside, was as close to perfect emotional torture as anything I've seen on the show. The voiced-over montage of everyone gearing up in the boxcar, splintering wood and sharpening zippers and preparing for war, was a great way to get the blood pumping, and the way it was instantly defused by the gas grenade from above did a brilliant job of yanking the rug out from under us, all in the span of only a minute or two. Then it was straight to the executioners, a sequence that felt custom designed to give me a heart attack. The sight of them all bound and bent over the trough as the bat-wielder took practice swings in his smeary butcher's apron, the idle chatter from he and his partner as the moment of truth closed in, and the sound of that saw whining in the background all the while… the tension was practically unbearable. And tempered only slightly by the fact that Adam Boyer, the actor playing the bat wielder, was – no kidding – my son's counselor at summer camp last year, the knowledge of which admittedly took a bit of the punch out of things for me.

Still, he played it perfectly, and it was a rough sit, that sequence. I watched two episodes from last season in preparation for the premiere: the fourth, and the final. The re-watch of the fourth – Carol's banishment in 'Indifference' – was probably the only reason I recognized the blonde kid down on the sucky end of the trough as the dim-bulb boyfriend from the young couple that Rick and Carol encountered in the house there, with the girlfriend who barely made it through the next few backyards. It was a nice callback to include him, and though it was practically subtext considering how long ago that episode aired and how minor the role had been, I also liked thinking about how it must have set Rick thinking about Carol in those moments. How ironic that she was crouching so near at the very same time, all streaked with walker juice like Rambo in warpaint and poised to save his life.

You're absolutely right about how far Carol has come, and it's such a joy to watch her in action now. Everything she did in this episode, from the very first moment she appeared, just oozed confidence and capability. I think watching the dynamic between she and Rick will prove to be a highlight this year, because I don't believe for a second that everything's just a-ok between them now that he's seen the error of his ways and they've hugged it out. Nonetheless, the two of them are very close to the same page these days, and if they can work together, they'll make one hell of a management team.

Which brings me to the point I'm most anxious to discuss with you, and one of the few places where I really felt the hands of the writers this week: namely, Project exTerminus. Why was everyone else was so opposed to Rick's suggestion of going back in and taking care of the rest of the Terminites? They seemed to want to portray it as unreasonable ruthlessness on Rick's part, but isn't that same brand of gee-whiz hesitance favored by the rest of the group the thing that cost them the prison? Have they all forgotten Woodbury so quickly, or did it simply not change them the same way it changed Rick? More philosophically, at what point does a certain level of humanity become a detriment to one's survival?

This seems to be a point they're setting up as one of the driving forces behind the season, considering the 'THEN' opener and closer intended to grant us insight into the events that led to the Terminus community turning toward the brutality they eventually espoused. Then again, it's one hell of a long way from kill-or-be-killed to guess-what's-for-dinner, in my mind, so I'm intrigued by the notion of seeing them try to connect those dots.

What do you think?

Nikki: OK, first, NO WAY on the batter being your son’s camp counselor, that is so hilarious (and must have been really weird to watch... and, um, unsettling?) And second, I didn’t actually remember the blond guy at the end as being one half of the creepy couple in the house; now I have to go back and watch that episode. I did, however, recognize him as Penguin from Gotham. And I couldn’t figure out why they were using him in such a small role, and now you’ve perfectly answered that question for me! Amazing.

For me, this episode is all about a line that’s uttered near the end. Eugene explains that he was on the inside and saw the government’s plan for a chemical that would wipe out all of humanity. He said all it would take is merely “flipping the script” to turn that same idea on the walkers and take out all of them, saving humanity in the process. And it was that little phrase — flipping the script — that seemed to sum up this entire episode for me. Carol flipped the script on who she used to be. The people of Terminus were actually once good people, as pointed out in the THEN portion, who were raped and killed and abused until they flipped the script, took out the baddies, and became the baddies themselves. The same guy holding Denise Crosby’s character as she was tossed into the train car (her son, perhaps?) is now the one standing in front of the blood-catching tubs, asking the guys for their quotas so he can enter it into his books.

You ask a pertinent question: how does one go from being the victim to being the perpetrator? Does it always have to be such a leap? Carol went from a victim to a hero, but many people lost their lives along the way. As you say, to go from victim to cannibal is a little wait... what?! for me, but maybe something snapped. They didn’t eat everyone — when Rick threw open that one train car to let the guy free, the freaky dude with all the hair and tattoos was the same guy who we saw in the THEN flashback tossing Crosby back into the other car after having raped her. He’s out of his mind when he comes out of the train car, so god knows what they’ve been doing to him (all deserved, but anyway...) but it’s one thing to seek revenge: it’s quite another to become the bad guys.

So maybe the reluctance to take out the rest of the Terminites stems from exactly that: they want to stop that cycle. In this moment, they’re the heroes, and they want the script to stop flipping. They saved themselves, and the best they can do is steer people away from Terminus. Maybe they’ve decided they can’t save everyone, and need to start focusing on themselves? Would the Terminites actually seek revenge on them, or just stay and take more innocent souls? If I were in that situation, I’d probably just want to get out of there as quickly as I could, too. Only later would I perhaps have some regrets and concerns about not having finished the job.

I’m hoping they actually play out the flashbacks in subsequent episodes and this isn’t the last we see of the Terminus folks, though. As my husband said, an entire season of following signs to get to one place ends in one giant shoot-em-up and then they move on; was that a build-up to a whole lotta nuthin’? I would argue it’s a build-up to a whole lotta Carol Epicness, and for that it was totally worth it, but there is something to building up a place for over a dozen episodes, only to take care of it quickly and move on. Then again, I like them better when they’re on the move and not stuck in one place. As you say, this was the ending everyone wanted last season, and it was all the sweeter having to wait for it. Next week will be the new beginning.

Any last thoughts, Josh?

Joshua: I think you might be right about the flashbacks continuing – likely as we follow Gareth in his pursuit. Any survivors of the chaos at Terminus have no reason to stay there any more, and it's only logical that they'd go after Rick & the gang as the supposed authors of their destruction (though I'd argue they brought that on themselves when they started luring fellow survivors to harvest like sheep). Regardless, I don't think we've seen the last of them, or yet felt the full ramifications of our heroes' decision to simply walk away.

Beyond that, the season is suddenly wide open, and I love that breadth of possibility. The nature of keeping them nomadic allows for lots of variety, and like you, I'm hoping things stay that way, at least for a while. We still have Beth's sort-of kidnapping to explain, and then there's the matter of that post-credits appearance by you-know-who (YES), but otherwise, anything at all could happen. And considering the source, it undoubtedly will.

Thanks for having me back this season, Nikki! When things get this dark, it sure is nice to have a hand to hold.